How to spot if a cough is coronavirus or hay fever

·3 min read
Young woman with pollen allergy, blowing her nose in a handkerchie. About 25 years, Caucasian female.
Spring can be an uncomfortable time for hay fever sufferers. (Posed by a model, Getty Images)

After living with coronavirus restrictions for more than a year, the arrival of spring brings a sense of optimism as the UK's lockdowns gradually ease, hopefully for the last time.

An effective vaccination programme means deaths have plummeted, giving the green light for up to six people or two households in England to socialise outdoors.

While many have enjoyed sunny spells and blooming flowers in parks and gardens, hay fever sufferers will inevitably be coughing and spluttering.

Hay fever affects up to two in five children in the UK, while between 10% and 30% of adults develop the irritating symptoms when pollen counts rise.

Read more: Face masks ease allergies

With coughing a tell-tale sign of both the coronavirus and hay fever, how can you tell if pollen or the infection is to blame?

droplets when coughing
Coughing is a symptom of the coronavirus and hay fever. (Stock, Getty Images)

How do coronavirus and hay fever symptoms compare?

The NHS defines common coronavirus symptoms as a fever, new and continuous cough, and loss of taste or smell.

Some have accused this list of being too limited. The World Health Organization also cites "tiredness" as a common sign of the infection.

Fatigue often occurs with hay fever. Like with the coronavirus, an allergy to pollen can also trigger a loss of smell, but not taste.

Headache is considered a "less common symptom" of the coronavirus, but often occurs during pollen season for hay fever sufferers, who may also endure pain at their temples and forehead.

Itchy, red or watery eyes are a common complaint among those with hay fever. The coronavirus may also trigger conjunctivitis, or pink eye.

Read more: Sunshine linked to lower coronavirus deaths

Aside from these shared symptoms, the signs of hay fever and the coronavirus are markedly different.

Only hay fever commonly causes sneezing, ear ache, or a runny or blocked nose. 

Despite its name, hay fever does not cause a fever, which is a tell-tale sign of the coronavirus. The NHS defines an infection-related high temperature as feeling hot to touch on the chest or back.

"Hay fever doesn't cause a high temperature and most people don't feel unwell," Boots' chief pharmacist Marc Donovan has previously said.

The coronavirus may also lead to aches and pains, a sore throat, diarrhoea, rashes, and discolouration of the fingers or toes – none of which are signs of hay fever.

Hay fever patients do not have a sore throat, however, it may be itchy, along with their mouth, nose and ears.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also lists nausea and vomiting as coronavirus symptoms, which do not occur with hay fever. As well as a fever, the centre also claims chills can occur while infected with the virus.

Read more: Everything you need to know about the AstraZeneca coronavirus jab's blood clot risk

Most people with the coronavirus feel better within a few weeks, while hay fever can persist throughout the summer months. 

Early research suggests the coronavirus is mild in four out of five cases, however, it can lead to a disease called COVID-19.

Coronavirus complications can cause difficulty breathing or shortness of breath. The CDC also cites these as being common signs of a mild infection.

These symptoms have some overlap with hay fever. Asthmatics who are allergic to pollen often endure chest tightness, breathlessness and wheezing.

More severe cases of the coronavirus have also been linked to chest pain or pressure, as well as a loss of speech or movement.

Watch: Dogs get hay fever too